CHICAGO (CBS) — Gov. JB Pritzker is urging insurance companies to expedite claims filed by businesses that were looted or otherwise vandalized last week, during widespread unrest of racial inequities.
The governor praised protesters who have taken to the streets virtually every day for more than a week to pay tribute to George Floyd, a black man killed by Minneapolis police when a white officer pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for several minutes during an arrest on Memorial Day. But he noted looters used the widespread protests as cover to pillage local businesses across the Chicago area and elsewhere.
“There were also those who tried to steal the peaceful voices and importance of this moment by looting, and burning, and damaging small businesses, and private and public property, especially in communities of color,” Pritzker said.
The governor said the Illinois Department of Insurance has been in contact with major insurance firms about the need to provide quick support to business owners who suffered damage from looting and vandalism.
“For our small businesses that succeed or fail at the margins, each setback is all the more difficult to come back from, and many of these businesses were just beginning to reopen their doors after months of staying closed to keep customers safe from the virus,” Pritzker said. “Insurance companies must do everything in their power and are obligated to give their customers the funds they need to rebuild, and get back on their feet as soon as possible. Help can’t wait.”
Pritzker said the state sent a bulletin to insurers, requesting they help businesses rebuild by expediting claims, and providing advance payments. The state also is urging insurers to implement a 60-day moratorium on the cancellation or non-renewal of policies beginning immediately.
“I won’t hesitate to hold any bad actors accountable,” the governor said. “Supporting community retail stores, restaurants, and services that make our neighborhoods stronger is just one piece of a broader rebuilding that we have ahead of us as a state.”
Department of Insurance Director Robert Muriel said the state is prepared to send examiners to insurance company offices to make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing.
Muriel also said companies that don’t comply with state regulations could face fines or have their licenses revoked.
Waukegan Mayor Sam Cunningham urged insurance companies to get more adjustors out in the field immediately to help business owners process claims.
“Make sure they have the ability to cut checks instantly, probably under that 5- or 10-thousand dollar mark,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham also encouraged business owners to reach out to their insurance agents as soon as possible to begin filing claims for damage from looting.
Felicia Goodwin, co-owner of a small business with her daughter on the South Side, said looters stripped their store during widespread looting across Chicago over the last weekend in May. She said they found their store’s cash register in the street afterward.
“They took everything from us,” Goodwin said.
“This is an overwhelming experience,” she added. “I know the struggles that I went through in order to build this business up. We have been in business for 9 years. We so many times got to the point where we said we would just close our doors, because it was a struggle, but we stayed and we did the work.”
Goodwin said she is still waiting for State Farm to let them know what their policy covers, but already has been told she will be responsible for repairs from having the business boarded up, because the boards were screwed into the window frames and door frames. She said she was told insurance will cover lost income, but she first has to provide an inventory list.
“We cannot reopen our business without inventory, glass being repaired, supplies, and furnishings,” she said.
Jonathan Swain, owner of Kimbark Beverage Shoppe, one of the first black-owned businesses in Hyde Park after it opened in the 1970s, said his insurance company has been extremely helpful and sympathetic so far.
Kimbark Beverage was looted on May 31, and Swain said his first call afterward was to his wife; his second was to his insurance company, which called him back within an hour.
Swain said his insurance adjustor told him things have never been this busy in terms of damage claims.
“She understood that on the other side of that phone was not just a business owner who was looking to get property replaced, but it was a person who has invested their lives in trying to rebuild and build an existence for their families for one or two generations,” he said.
Swain noted that small businesses, black-owned ones in particular, typically don’t have the cash on hand needed to pay for repairs or to replace inventory if they’re vandalized or looted, so they need insurance companies to act quickly to help them rebuild.
“Your decisions are the difference between businesses existing and businesses not existing for generations to come,” he said.
Meantime, Pritzker said he’s working with the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus and others on legislation to improve police accountability. Although he declined to provide details on what legislation the state might enact, the governor said it’s clear more needs to be done to make sure officers are sufficiently disciplined for wrongdoing.
“We’re putting together our proposal, our package, and doing that with the Black Caucus and others who are allies,” he said. “We all know that there have been a lot of circumstances where police have not been held accountable, so there’s a lot of work to be done.”
The governor said, while he supports the growing “defund the police” movement, he believes that is the wrong term to use to describe the need for reforms. He said the goal is not to eliminate funding police altogether, but to shift some funding away from police to other social services, such as mental health programs.
“They want fundamental change in the way that police operate, and so there’s obviously an element here of how about avoiding police interaction altogether, for example, when you’re dealing with someone who’s mentally ill. That’s one example of what people mean when they use those words,” he said.
The governor has said he would support calling a special session of the Illinois General Assembly to debate police reform legislation, but he said lawmakers must first come up with a specific agenda of proposed legislation.